The Spotted or Canada Grouse.

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Birds of America

By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.


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[Spruce Grouse.]

[Dendragapus canadensis.]


No sooner had I entered the State of Maine, than I considered the Canada Grouse as one of the principal objects of my inquiry. Every person to whom I spoke about it, assured me that it was rather abundant during the whole year, and consequently that it bred in the country. All this fortunately proved to be quite true, but no one told me of the difficulties I should have to encounter in watching its habits; and although I ultimately succeeded in this, the task was perhaps as severe as any which I ever undertook.

In August 1832, I reached the delightful little village of Dennisville, about eighteen miles distant from Eastport. There I had the good fortune of becoming an inmate of the kind and most hospitable family of Judge LINCOLN, who has resided there for nearly half a century, and who is blessed with a family of sons equal to any with whom I am acquainted, for talents, perseverance and industry. Each of these had his own peculiar avocation, and I naturally attached myself more particularly to one who ever since his childhood has manifested a decided preference for ornithological pursuits. This young gentleman, THOMAS LINCOLN, offered to lead me to those retired woods where the Spruce Partridges were to be found. We accordingly set out on the 27th of August, my two sons accompanying us. THOMAS, being a perfect woodsman, advanced at our head, and I can assure you, reader, that to follow him through the dense and tangled woods of his native country, or over the deep mosses of Labrador, where he accompanied me afterwards, would be an undertaking not easily accomplished. The weather was warm, and the musquitoes and moose flies did their best to render us uncomfortable. We however managed to follow our guide the whole day, over fallen trees, among tangled brushwood, and through miry ponds; yet not a single Grouse did we find, even in places where he had before seen them, and great was my mortification, when, on our return towards sunset, as we were crossing a meadow belonging to his father, not more than a quarter of a mile from the village, the people employed in making hay informed us that about half an hour after our departure they had seen a fine covey. We were too much fatigued to go in search of them, and therefore made for home.

Ever ardent, if not impatient, I immediately made arrangements for procuring some of these birds, offering a good price for a few pairs of old and young, and in a few days renewed my search in company with a man who had assured me be could guide me to their breeding grounds, and which he actually did, to my great pleasure. These breeding grounds I cannot better describe than by telling you that the larch forests, which are there called "Hackmetack Woods," are as difficult to traverse as the most tangled swamps of Labrador. The whole ground is covered by the most beautiful carpeting of verdant moss, over which the light-footed Grouse walk with ease, but among which we sunk at every step or two up to the waist, our legs stuck in the mire, and our bodies squeezed between the dead trunks and branches of the trees, the minute leaves of which insinuated themselves among my clothes, and nearly blinded me. We saved our guns from injury, however, and seeing some of the Spruce Partridges before they perceived us, we procured several specimens. They were in beautiful plumage, but all male birds. It is in such places that these birds usually reside, and it is very seldom that they are seen in the open grounds, beyond the borders of their almost impenetrable retreats. On returning to my family, I found that another hunter had brought two fine females, but had foolishly neglected to bring the young ones, which he had caught and given to his children, who, to my great mortification, had already cooked them when my messenger arrived at his house.

The Spruce Partridge or Canada Grouse breeds in the States of Maine and Massachusetts about the middle of May, nearly a month earlier than at Labrador. The males pay their addresses to the females by strutting before them on the ground or moss, in the manner of the Turkey Cock, frequently rising several yards in the air in a spiral manner, when they beat their wings violently against their body, thereby producing a drumming noise, clearer than that of the Rutted Grouse, and which can be heard at a considerable distance. The female places her nest beneath the low horizontal branches of fir trees, taking care to conceal it well. It consists of a bed of twigs, dry leaves and mosses, on which she deposits from eight to fourteen eggs, of a deep fawn colour, irregularly splashed with different tints of brown. They raise only one brood in the season, and the young follow the mother as soon as hatched. The males leave the females whenever incubation has commenced, and do not join them again until late in autumn; indeed, they remove to different woods, where they are more shy and wary than during the love season or in winter.

This species walks much in the manner of our Partridge. I never saw one jerk its tail as the Rutted Grouse does, nor do they burrow in the snow like that bird, but usually resort to trees to save themselves from their pursuers. They seldom move from thence at the barking of a dog, and when roused fly only to a short distance, uttering a few clucks, which they repeat on alighting. In general, when a flock is discovered, each individual forming it may be easily caught, for so seldom do they see men in the secluded places which they inhabit, that they do not seem to be aware of the hostile propensities of the race.

Along the shores of the Bay of Fundy, the Spruce Partridge is much more abundant than the Rutted Grouse, which indeed gradually becomes scarcer the farther north we proceed, and is unknown in Labrador, where it is replaced by the Willow Ptarmigan, and two other species. The females of the Canada Grouse differ materially in their colouring in different latitudes. In Maine, for instance, they are more richly coloured than in Labrador, where I observed that all the individuals procured by me were of a much greyer hue than those shot near Dennisville. The like difference is perhaps still more remarkable in the Rutted Grouse, which are so very grey and uniformly coloured in the Northern and Eastern States, as to induce almost every person to consider them as of a species distinct from those found in Kentucky, or any of the southern mountainous districts of the Union. I have in my possession skins of both species procured a thousand miles apart, that present these remarkable differences in the general hue of their plumage.

All the species of this genus indicate the approach of rainy weather or a snow storm, with far more precision than the best barometer; for on the afternoon previous to such weather, they all resort to their roosting places earlier by several hours than they do during a continuation of fine weather. I have seen groups of Grouse flying up to their roosts at mid-day, or as soon as the weather felt heavy, and have observed that it generally rained in the course of that afternoon. When, on the contrary, the same flock would remain busily engaged in search of food until sunset, I found the night and the following morning fresh and clear. Indeed, I believe that this kind of foresight exists in the whole tribe of gallinaceous birds.

One day, while on the coast of Labrador, I accidentally almost walked upon a female Canada Grouse surrounded by her young brood. It was on the 18th of July. The affrighted mother on seeing us, ruffled up all her feathers like a common hen, and advanced close to us as if determined to defend her offspring. Her distressed condition claimed our forbearance, and we allowed her to remain in safety. The moment we retired, she smoothed down her plumage, and uttered a tender maternal chuck, when the little ones took to their wings, although they were, I can venture to assert, not more than one week old, with so much ease and delight, that I felt highly pleased at having allowed them to escape.

Two days afterwards, my youthful and industrious party returned to the Ripley with a pair of these Grouse in moult. This species undergoes that severe trial at a much earlier season than the Willow Ptarmigan. My son reported that some young ones which be saw with their mother, were able to fly fully a hundred yards, and alighted on the low trees, among which he caught several of them, which, however, died before he reached the vessel.

This species is found not only in the State of Maine, but also in the mountainous districts of New Hampshire, and the northern parts of New York, as well as around our northern great lakes, and the head waters of the Missouri. It is abundant in the British provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador.

Among the great number, procured at all seasons of the year, which I have examined, I never found one without the rufous band at the extremity of the tail represented in the plate; nor did I see any having the terminal white spot on the upper tail-coverts exhibited in figures of this species.

Their food consists of berries of different sorts, and the young twigs and blossoms of several species of plants. In the summer and autumn I have found them gorged with the berries of the plant represented in the plate, and which is commonly called "Solomon's Seal." In the winter I have seen the crop filled with the short leaves of the larch or Hackmetack.

I have frequently heard it said that these birds could be knocked down with sticks, or that a whole covey could be shot, while perched on trees, by beginning at the lowest one; but I have never witnessed any thing of the kind, and therefore cannot vouch for the truth of the assertion. During the autumn of 1833, these birds were uncommonly abundant in the State of Maine. My friend EDWARD HARRIS of New York, THOMAS LINCOLN, and others, killed a great number; and the last mentioned gentleman procured a pair alive, which were fed on oats and did well.

The flesh of this Grouse is dark, and fit for being eaten only when it has fed on berries. In winter, when it feeds on the leaves of trees and other plants, the flesh is quite bitter and disagreeable.

According to Dr. RICHARDSON, all the thick and swampy black-spruce forests between Canada and the Arctic Sea abound with this bird, and considerable numbers exist in the severest seasons as high as the 67th parallel. I am informed by Mr. TOWNSEND that it is also plentiful on the Rocky Mountains and the plains of the Columbia, from which parts I have obtained specimens differing in nothing from others procured in Maine and Labrador. I have also compared those in the Edinburgh Museum, which Mr. DOUGLASS was pleased to name Tetrao Franklinii, with several of my own, and feel perfectly confident that they are all of one and the same species.

SPOTTED GROUSE, Tetrao Canadensis, Bonap. Amer. Orn., vol. iii. pl. 20.
TETRAO CANADENSIS, Bonap. Syn. p. 127.
TETRAO CANADENSIS, Spotted Grouse, Swains. & Rich. F. Bor. Amer., vol. ii.p. 346.
TETRAO FRANKLINII, Franklin's Grouse, Swains. & Rich. F. Bor. Amer.,vol. ii. p. 348.
SPOTTED GROUSE, Nutt. Man., vol. i. p. 667.

SPOTTED OR CANADA GROUSE, Tetrao Canadensis, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. ii.p. 437; vol. v. p. 563.

Male, 15 3/4, 21 3/4. Female, 15 1/2, 21.

Plentiful from the northern parts of New York to Labrador, as well as from Canada to the Arctic Sea. Columbia river. Partially migratory in winter.

Adult Male.

Bill short, robust, slightly arched, rather obtuse, the base covered by feathers; upper mandible with the dorsal outline convex towards the end, the edges sharp and overlapping, the tip declinate; lower mandible slightly convex, in its dorsal outline, the back broad and rounded, the sides sloping outwards, the tip rather rounded. Nostrils basal, lateral, concealed by the short feathers. Head small, neck of ordinary length, body full. Feet short, rather small; tarsus short, roundish, feathered; toes scutellate above, broadly margined and pectinate, the anterior ones connected by a web at the base, the hind toe very small, the two lateral about equal, the middle one much longer; claws short, arched, compressed, rather obtuse.

Plumage compact, slightly glossed. Feathers of the head very short. Wings short, broad, much rounded and curved, the third quill longest, the fourth next, the second and fifth nearly equal, the first very short. Tail ample, of ordinary length, rounded, of sixteen broad rotundato-truncate feathers, having a minute mucro.

Bill and claws brownish-black. Iris hazel. Fringed membrane over the eyes vermilion. Toes purplish-grey. Upper plumage and flanks brownish-black, transversely barred with brownish-grey, the tip of each feather with two bars of the latter colour; on the hind parts the bars are larger, and the pale ones more tinged with brown. Quills and larger coverts blackish-brown, the outer edges of the primaries pale brownish-grey, and those of the secondaries minutely mottled with the same. Tail-coverts brownish-black, minutely mottled and tipped with greyish-white; tail-feathers darker and tipped with dull brownish-red. Lower parts black, the feathers on the throat having a white spot near the end, those of the lower and lateral parts of the neck unspotted, of the breast with a broad subterminal spot, and the under tail-coverts largely tipped with white. Inner wing-coverts clove-brown, the proximal and axillaries tipped with white.

Length 15 3/4 inches, extent of wings 21 3/4; bill along the back 8/12, along the edge 1 2/12; tarsus 1 1/4; weight 17 oz.

Adult Female.

The female is not much smaller. The superciliary membrane is much less, but of the same colour. The upper parts are nearly of the same tints, but more broadly barred; the head, sides of the neck, fore neck, and anterior part of the breast yellowish-red, barred with brownish-black; the lower parts greyish-black, barred with reddish-white. The tail is minutely mottled and tipped with brownish-red. The younger females have more of the yellowish-red tints than the old ones. In other respects the colouring is nearly similar.

Length 15 1/2 inches, extent of wings 21; weight 1503.

In a male preserved in spirits, the mouth is of the moderate width of 10 1/2 twelfths; the palate flat, with two longitudinal ridges; the posterior aperture of the nares 8 twelfths long, strongly papillate on the edges; the tongue short, being only 7 1/2 twelfths in length, triangular, a little concave above, emarginate at the base, with long pointed papillae, disposed in two series, the tip somewhat obtuse. The oesophagus is 6 1/2 inches in length; its width from 10 twelfths to 8 twelfths for the length of 3 1/2 inches, where it opens into a globular sac 2 inches 9 twelfths in diameter, the space between the upper and lower aperture of which is only 9 twelfths. The stomach is a very large and powerful gizzard, of an irregular elliptical form, 1 1/2 inches in length, 2 1/4 inches in breadth; the right muscle 9 twelfths, the left 11 twelfths in thickness; the tendons large and radiated; the epithelium tough, horny, with two nearly flat, smooth, grinding surfaces. The intestine is 3 feet 2 inches long, with a nearly uniform width of 3 twelfths. The coeca commence at the distance of 4 inches from the extremity, and are 16 1/2 inches long, their width 3 1/2 twelfths, excepting for 3 inches at the commencement, where it is only 2 1/2 twelfths; on their inner surface are six longitudinal villous ridges, the intervals between which are also covered with prominent villi, as is the whole interior of the intestine. There is no enlargement of the rectum.

The trachea is 5 1/2 inches long, much flattened, at first 3 twelfths in breadth, presently contracting to 2 1/4 twelfths, and so continuing until toward the lower end, where it gradually enlarges to 3 1/4 twelfths. The rings are very feeble, slightly ossified, 102 in number, with 2 dimidiate rings. The lateral muscles are slender, as are the sterno-tracheal. There are no inferior laryngeal muscles.

TRILLIUM PICTUM, Pursh, Flor. Amer. Sept., vol. i. p. 244.--HEXANDRIA TRIGYNIA, Linn.

This plant, as well as the other species represented, grows abundantly in Maine, in all such secluded places as are frequented by the Spotted Grouse, which eagerly devours its berries. It has ovate acuminate leaves, of a light green colour, thin and undulated; an erect peduncle; white flowers, veined with purple at the bottom, and having the petals lanceolate, recurved, nearly twice the length of the calyx. The berries are ovate and of a scarlet colour.

STREPTOPUS DISTORTUS, Mich., Flor. Amer., vol. i. p. 200. Pursh, Flor. Amer. Sept., vol. i. p. 232.--HEXANDRIA MONOGYNIA, Linn.

About two feet high, with alternate, amplexicaul, ovate, acute, ribbed, light green leaves; greenish-yellow flowers, on pedicels which are distorted in the middle; and oval scarlet berries.

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